Best Way to Grow Garden Peas
Peas, from the legume family of plants, are not difficult to grow in containers, but they do need a little more care and attention than beans. You will know the effort is worthwhile as soon as you taste them.
This popular vegetable is in continuous supply frozen or canned, but freshare in a different league for flavour and texture, especially if you harvest them young and cook them lightly within minutes of picking. Home-grown peas even surpass the quality of the fresh varieties sold in their pods in season, as the peas begin to lose their sweetness soon after the pods are taken from the plant.
Selecting peas for container growing
Peas can be categorized as wrinkle-seeded, round-seeded and edible-podded varieties. The wrinkle-seeded cultivars are sweeter in flavour and more succulent than the round-seeded kinds, but until recent horticultural improvements were much later in cropping. This situation was changed by the introduction of the cultivar known as Hurst Beagle, a wrinkle-seeded pea which can compete with any early round-seeded variety on the market. It has another great advantage for the container-gardener; it is a tiny dwarf cultivar with pods averaging 3-3 ‘/2in (8-9cm) in length: there are six to eight peas in each pod. Although this plant grows to 18in (45cm) in height in the open garden, it rarely reaches more than 12in (30cm) when container-grown, but still produces a profusion of pods.
Other wrinkle-seeded peas include the redoubtable Kelvedon Wonder, which I have grown both in the garden and in containers, and found little difference in cropping potential. It grows to 18in (45cm) in height and needs supporting. The small pods — about 3in (8cm) in length – are profuse and their sharply pointed ends make for easy podding when you are preparing the peas for cooking. This cultivar is a very good choice for succession sowing; by putting in seeds every two weeks until midsummer, you can have crops right through late autumn.
Another useful wrinkle-seeded pea is Little Marvel, which grows to 15in (38cm) and is a prolific podder. The peas are exquisitely sweet and if you like raw or lightly cooked peas for inclusion in salad, this is the one to choose. Like the preceding variety, it is also a good choice for succession sowing. The variety known as Winfrida, which grows to a height of about 15in (38cm), can be sown throughout autumn, indoors or out, or from late winter to early spring to get ahead on the growing season. In mild areas, it can be started in containers outdoors; trials have proved it capable of withstanding light frost and it is the hardiest cultivar of all.
Among the round-seeded peas, I can recommend Feltham First Early as a good choice for container growing. Meteor is a more compact plant, but needs good root space and should be potted up in a large pot size. Round-seeded peas are generally larger than the wrinkle-seeded types, both as plants and in the size of the pods, and require firm support from pea sticks or canes as they grow. On account of this, I consider round-seeded peas less suitable for container growing than the wrinkle-seeded types described above, but it is worth studying the qualities of other proven garden cultivars if you have reasonable space for your pea crop and are prepared for an element of experiment in growing them in containers.
The edible-podded peas, also called sugar peas or mangetout, are unfortunately not really suited to the limited space of container growing. The majority of the cultivars grow up to 6ft (1.8m) tall; even those described as dwarf varieties are 2ft (60cm) high or more. They need considerable lateral space in which to grow, as well as height, and larger containers with correspondingly more. Many are rather slow to mature, and more suitable for greenhouse cultivation. My own opinion is that they do not provide a good return for the time and trouble spent on them, and since your area for cultivation is restricted, it is better to keep to the vegetables that have proven success in container growing.
Sowing and growing
When you have selected the cultivar you wish to grow, prepare the containers with the growing medium. Peas are not particular about soil type; they thrive in most conditions, but the better the soil mixture, the better the crop. The seeds can be sown in seed trays or boxes, or if preferred you can start them off singly, one seed to a 3in (8cm) pot. The advantage of this method is that you can use plastic propagator tops, or improvised equivalent to give them extra protection while germination and early growth occurs. This is especially necessary if you start the seeds out of doors. Low temperatures inhibit germination, however, so the location in which the seeds are allowed to germinate depends upon the time of sowing and conditions indoors and out.
Spring sowing is the rule for garden-grown crops, but for peas started indoors you gain an extended growing season as with other vegetables. Early sowings can be started from late winter or, as explained, in the autumn preceding the growing season. Practise succession sowing if you can provide the space for a large pea crop, starting a new batch about every 14 days. Remember, however, that accommodating germinating seeds is one thing; finding space for large pots,or tubs when the plants are grown is a different matter.
Do not flatten the soil too firmly after sowing the seed; a light, crumbly texture is ideal. Germination takes about seven to ten days. As theappear, provide a position in good light and with a warm, but not hot atmosphere. If you have sown into small pots, transfer growing plants into larger containers as necessary. Allow about Sin (20cm) of soil depth for the maturing plants, as well as lateral space for the growth to spread. Water freely, but note that although thirsty plants, peas do not like waterlogging. When the plants are well established, the containers can be moved outside on to the patio or balcony once the danger of night frosts has passed.
Support and protection
As the plants grow, they need supporting. The very dwarf varieties do not always require this, but the larger plants do better and produce more pods if they have upright sticks on which to climb. You can use the traditional bushy pea sticks, or insert in the soil some twiggy stems or branches from a tree or shrub; select branches which are slender but have reasonable strength. When pushing the supporting sticks into the tub or trough, take care to avoid cutting through the plants’ root systems: if you encounter resistance, insert the stick elsewhere until you find a point where it slides easily into the soil. Tie in stems and growing shoots to anchor the plants to the supports.
Plants grown outdoors are vulnerable to birds, which enjoy the tender young growth. The system of criss-cross threads tied to sticks which works very well to deter birds in the open garden is not very practical for containers. The most effective way of protecting your plants is to erect netting ‘cages’, making a frame of wooden laths to support the nets. If you have quite a large crop you can use wire netting to add strength to the structure, attached to the laths with wire staples. Plastic netting can be substituted, however, and this may be found more manageable and easily obtainable.
The plants should be regularly fed with a liquid fertilizer as soon as the flower buds appear. One feed every ten days is quite sufficient as the flowers fade and the pods develop. Keep up regular watering, and do not allow the growing medium either to dry out or to become saturated.
The peas are ready for harvest when the young pods are springy and tender, opening easily with a snapping noise when you press the pointed end with your finger. If the pods are drum-tight and opened with difficulty, the peas will be past their best.